Scottish astronomers have spied what they believe to be the most distant galaxy ever observed, using the new super space telescope, James Webb.
The red smudge is 35 billion light-years away. We see it, as it was, just 235 million years after the Big Bang.
It’s a preliminary, or “candidate”, result and will need a follow-up study for confirmation.
But for the moment, the University of Edinburgh team is celebrating and marvelling at James Webb’s power.
“We’re using a telescope that was designed to do precisely this kind of thing, and it’s amazing,” said Callum Donnan, an astrophysics PhD student in the university’s Institute for Astronomy.
James Webb is the $10 billion successor to the Hubble Space Telescope and is hunting the first stars and galaxies to form in the 13.8-billion-year-old Universe.
These objects are extremely faint but the new observatory has been tuned specifically to pick up their glow in infrared light.
Edinburgh’s high mark will almost certainly be short-lived.
Since Webb began science operations at the end of June, astronomers have been finding ever more distant candidates in its imagery.
And if the designed performance is achieved, scientists could eventually see objects with Webb that were in existence perhaps as little as 100 million years after the Big Bang.
The Edinburgh target is called CEERS-93316 and is said to have a redshift of 16.7.
Redshift is the term astronomers use when discussing distances in the cosmos.
It’s a measure that describes the way light coming from an object has been “stretched” by the expansion of the Universe to redder wavelengths.
The higher the redshift number assigned to a galaxy, the more distant it is and the earlier it is being viewed in cosmic history.
Recent days have seen a stream of ever larger redshift numbers being reported on the popular arxiv pre-print server.